Start with a vision of locusts, grasshoppers threatening the fodder for flocks and herds. Recall the plagues in Egypt, and the hardening of hearts. Amos intercedes with God in response to the vision, and God relents.
Follow with a vision of fire – something more supernaturally apocalyptic, referencing the deep, from which tohu va bohu God brought order and creation – in which lives Leviathan. Fire fell on Sodom and Gomorrah – and left the bitumen pits of the Dead Sea valley. Amos intercedes. God relents.
The third vision is the one we hear in our churches once in 3 years, of a plumb line measuring how Israel has been building. God has relented, and relented again, not only in Amos’ dreams, but in the waves of threat from northern neighbours – but no longer will God pass over them – the allusion is to Exodus.
The religious boss of Bethel, Amaziah, accuses Amos of sedition, not blasphemy. The shrine is a national civil religion institution, loyal to the king, and Amos is told to ‘go back where you come from’ in the south. Can you imagine a church so tied to the political party in power, to the status quo, and so opposed to any prophecy that disturbed the conventional wisdom? Of course you can!
Amos denies being a prophet, in the professional or hereditary sense that Amaziah favours. Amos claims he’s just a farmer (though as I argued last week, he was likely at least a sheep breeder or big rancher, involved with import-export, hardly a share-cropper with dirty hands. He’s not beholden.
The consequence of a religion too tied to the ruler of the day is that both fall, since neither bowed to the divine word. As John Knox put it to Mary Queen of Scots, the church and the crown both must defer to the divine word. In hindsight, as writers and editors fine-tuned this collection of Amos’ message, this message of defiance to the ‘powers-that-be’ of late Israel was faithful, and prescient, if not predictive, naming the shape of things to come.
Amos Chapter 7
1 This is what the Lord GOD showed me: he was forming locusts at the time the latter growth began to sprout (it was the latter growth after the king’s mowings).
2 When they had finished eating the grass of the land, I said, ‘O Lord GOD, forgive, I beg you! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!’
3 The LORD relented concerning this; ‘It shall not be,’ said the LORD.
4 This is what the Lord GOD showed me: the Lord GOD was calling for a shower of fire,* and it devoured the great deep and was eating up the land.
5 Then I said, ‘O Lord GOD, cease, I beg you! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!’
6 The LORD relented concerning this; ‘This also shall not be,’ said the Lord GOD.
7 This is what he showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb-line, with a plumb-line in his hand.
8 And the LORD said to me, ‘Amos, what do you see?’ And I said, ‘A plumb-line.’ Then the Lord said, ‘See, I am setting a plumb-line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by;
9 the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.’
10 Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, ‘Amos has conspired against you in the very centre of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words.
11 For thus Amos has said, “Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.” ’
12 And Amaziah said to Amos, ‘O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there;
13 but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.’
14 Then Amos answered Amaziah, ‘I am* no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am* a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees,
15 and the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”
16 ‘Now therefore hear the word of the LORD. You say, “Do not prophesy against Israel, and do not preach against the house of Isaac.”
17 Therefore, thus says the LORD: “Your wife shall become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be parcelled out by line; you yourself shall die in an unclean land, and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.” ’